Published originally as a two-part series on SmartBlog Insights.

I was recently introduced to John Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change. How could his process be used to introduce social media to an organization? Social media can sometimes be perceived as annoying, threatening or unnecessary. However, it can also be welcomed as a catalyst for further organizational change.

Kotter says many change efforts fail because organizations don’t take the holistic approach required to see change through. Here are his eight steps to ensure successful change:

  1. Create a sense of urgency. Members now have free online access to knowledge resources and new ways to connect with peers and clients. We need to be the first place they go to for these needs, not another online community or resource. This sense of urgency must be accepted and conveyed by leadership and staff. Dispel any doubts with social media usage statistics, member survey results and market research. Are younger prospects joining at the same rate they used to? Are we meeting their needs? Don’t talk about these issues behind closed doors, share concerns with your entire leadership and educate them about these issues. They might not realize that your association is at risk of becoming irrelevant to some demographic sectors.Are there some on your board who believe there’s no need for change? Isn’t there always a need to adapt, improve and innovate? If they don’t think so, are they truly leaders, or languishers?
  2. Gather your guiding team. You need a cross-departmental team that’s willing to invest their time and professional reputation into making social media work. They’re willing to give new ideas a chance – they’re not the usual devil’s advocates. They’re communicators who naturally share and listen to others. They have influence or power; they’ll help others understand what’s going on and encourage them to buy in and participate.
  3. Together, create a compelling vision and strategy. Paint a picture of the ideal association that could emerge as a result of this strategy. Show how the association’s goals will be met, how member needs will be met (and perhaps exceeded), how members will interact with the association and each other, and how the association will be different and better. Outline how that’s going to happen – the steps of your strategy.
  4. Communicate this vision and strategy clearly so everyone else (staff, leaders, members) can understand and buy into it. Explain why this new vision and strategy is necessary, what that future association looks like, why it’s better and what’s in it for them. There will always be naysayers — those who don’t see the need to change and improve. That’s their baggage; they carry it with them everywhere, not only in your association. Don’t let them hold you back. The vision and strategy you share will encourage others to support your plans and maybe even get involved.
  5. Empower others to act on that change vision. Identify the organizational barriers (both real and perceived) that prevent others from buying into new programs like social media. These barriers may originate in existing systems and procedures, or in staff attitudes. Social media is a learning process for everyone. Encourage and support those who propose new ideas and are willing to take risks or even willing to try new things. Do your performance evaluations reward innovation or convention? Brave hearts or weak spines? Don’t reward the “I’m just hanging in until my 401(k) is vested” crowd. Educate those who aren’t wired for change in a non-threatening way so that they see the benefits, both for your members and your organization, and get on board.
  6. Aim for short-term wins. Although social media is a long-term effort, establish a few short-term measurable goals and share those early success stories so everyone knows that the investment of time (and reputation) is worth it. Hopefully this will stifle your doubters. Recognize and reward your team. Boost their morale and motivation, especially if their workload or stress increases in the short-term.
  7. Don’t let up. Keep fine-tuning. Review what’s not working and make changes to improve your efforts. Use the experience and resulting credibility from social media adoption as a lever to make other organizational changes. Take a hard look at existing systems and procedures. How much time does staff spend on this “make work” instead of actually getting things done? Where can your association become more nimble and less bureaucratic? Get fierce with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality that can undermine any vision. Continual education and communication can help ease discomfort and pave the way for needed changes. Relapse to old ways will be tempting for those who may outwardly celebrate your achievements but who inwardly feel threatened by new relationships and programs they don’t fully understand and long for the safe and predictable.
  8. Nurture a new change culture. Institutionalize the change mentality. Make change management a part of your staff and leadership training to ensure that incoming leaders will not revert to old ways. Change will lead to new behaviors – collaboration, openness, releasing control (gasp!) – that must be encouraged. Know that the risk-taking involved will also lead to some failures. However, failures are a chance to learn and improve. A change in organizational culture will take time and may result in the loss of longtime staff, and even leaders, along the way. It’s up to your leaders to persuade others that change is necessary for the association to succeed and survive. Change is the new normal.

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